Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Congressional Republicans act like members of a white citizens council

By DeWayne Wickham

Just when it seemed the GOP’s pup tent was popping its stitches, Republicans have again dashed any hope that their party might become a political big tent.

The illusion of GOP inclusion came in the wake of last year’s election when black Republicans won congressional seats in South Carolina and Florida, the first time in over a century that a former Confederate state has sent a black Republican to Congress. The election of Allen West of Florida and Tim Scott of South Carolina – plus Jennifer Carroll’s election as Florida’s lieutenant governor – had some people thinking the GOP had broken free of its racial myopia.

Those breakthroughs came less than three weeks after Republicans were stung by the racially charged action of Dave Bartholomew, the Virginia Beach, Va., GOP chairman who was forced to resign after he was caught passing along an email that compared black welfare recipients to a dog.

While the election of Carroll, Scott and West overshadowed Bartholomew’s bad act, it has done little to burnish the image of the Republican Party among blacks and other minorities. That’s because when it comes to burning bridges with this nation’s minorities, the GOP can’t help itself.

Proof of its propensity now to act more like a white citizens’ council from the 1960s, rather than the political party that ended slavery in the 1860s, came earlier this month. That’s when Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives voted to stop delegates from voting on the House floor when the entire body is assembles as “a committee of the whole.”

The six delegates – minorities from the District of Columbia and the U.S. territories of Guam, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands – have historically lacked the full voting rights of House members elected from districts in the nation’s 50 states. They could vote in a committee, but not on the House floor where legislation is finally enacted.

But when Democrats took control of the House in 2007 they adopted a rule that allowed the delegates, who like full voting members of Congress represent American citizens, to have a limited vote on the House floor when the entire body acted as a committee to speed up the legislative process.

Republicans argue it violates the constitution to allow delegates such a floor vote, even though a federal appeals court upheld it in a 1994 opinion. Since 1993 when Democrats who then controlled the House first allowed delegates this limited vote, it’s been a political football. Whenever Republicans were in power it was taken away. When Democrats gained the majority it was given back.

But this time there was reason to believe things would be different.

“America is more than a country,” Republicans said in the preamble to a pledge the GOP made to voters shortly before the November election. “America is an idea – an idea that free people can govern themselves, that government’s powers are derived from the consent of the governed…”

But now that Republicans control the House they’ve decided that Americans represented by the six delegates – five Democrats and one Independent – should have their ability to give consent to government actions through their elected representatives reduced again.

“If the representatives of people in Baghdad and Kabul couldn’t vote we’d call that an incomplete democracy,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson told me.

Sure we would. And we’d accuse those responsible of being political thugs. But such harsh language is no longer acceptable at a time when many people think kinder words will produce better political behavior.

So, suffice to say, I think the GOP’s pup tent has just gotten a lot smaller.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Obama bringing sense to U.S.-Cuba policy

By DeWayne Wickham

It was late in the day on the Friday before the nation’s capital shutdown for the Martin Luther King Jr., holiday that the White House signaled a long awaited change in this country’s Cuba policy that has to have a lot of people cheering on both sides of the Florida Straits.

President Obama ordered administration officials “to take a series of steps to continue efforts to reach out to the Cuban people in support of their desire to freely determine their country’s future,” the White House press release declared.

The steps, which relax restrictions on travel and money transfers to Cuba, moves this nation closer to a rational foreign policy towards the communist state, which for nearly half a century a succession of American governments have tried to topple.

Cuba is the last Cold War battleground where the United States is not just at loggerheads with an old Soviet client state but is actively trying to undermine the government. This nation's with regime change in Havana has been fueled more by domestic politics (pandering for votes among anti-Castro Cubans in South Florida) than a well-reasoned foreign policy.

Obama’s decision to relax the ban on Americans traveling to Cuba is an act of political courage and good sense. Under the new rules it will be easier for academics, students, religious organizations and journalists to travel to Cuba. Also, when this change takes effect, any American can send up to $2,000 a year to someone in Cuba as long as they are not a senior member of the Cuban government or Communist Party.

Under the old rules - and this won't change - Cuban Americans had unlimited freedom to travel to Cuba and send money to people in the Caribbean island nation that’s just 90 miles off the tip of Florida. Everyone else in this country was prohibited from sending money to Cuba and severely restricted from visiting that country.

The travel ban, its supporters have long argued, is necessary to keep dollars out of the coffers of the Castro regime. That’s laughable given the exception made for Cuban Americans. But what the ban effectively has done is reward the families of the white Cubans who disproportionately immigrate to the United States – and punish the families of black Cubans who have largely remained in Cuba – Tom├ís Fernandez Robaina, a senior researcher at Cuba’s national library and cultural historian, told me. Without relatives in this country to send them money black families in Cuba have been hardest hit by Cuba’s economic problems, he said.

Obama’s new policy, which allows anyone in this country to legally send money to almost anyone in Cuba, makes it possible for financial aid to find its way into the homes of many more black Cubans than before. And that’s a good thing.

The president understands that, as with Vietnam and China, American engagement – open travel and trade – is the best way to usher in democratic change to Cuba. Ironically, there is little support in Cuba for the trade embargo and travel ban that have defined America’s relationship with Cuba for almost five decades.

The vast majority of Cubans that I’ve met during my many reporting trips to Cuba – including those who oppose the Castro regime – dislike the travel ban and trade embargo. Keeping Cuba sealed off from the American people and U.S. businesses does little to alter the politics of that nation. What it does do is keep Cuba and the United States locked into a foolish Cold War standoff.

Wisely, albeit slowly, Barack Obama is rolling back this bad policy.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Chris Brown still haunted by his demons

By DeWayne Wickham

This was supposed to be a column about the rehabilitation of Chris Brown, the once wildly popular R&B singer who suffered a big fall from grace in 2009 when he plead guilty to felony assault in the beating of his then-girlfriend, pop singer Rihanna.

When the story of his brutal act surfaced, I joined the chorus of commentators who trashed Brown and warned Rihanna not to give him a second chance at love. But I’ve always believed that lawbreakers who are not imprisoned for life should – if they demonstrate contrition – be given a chance to get back on the right track.

And that’s just what I thought Brown had earned late last month when he successfully completed a year-long domestic violence course mandated by the court. That good news capped more than a year of encouraging reports about the progress he has been making from the judge who is handling Brown’s case.

In February, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Patricia Schnegg complimented Brown for his diligence in complying with the terms of the plea bargain agreement that kept him out of jail. In addition to the domestic violence counseloring, Brown was ordered to perform six months community service in his home state of Virginia.
“It looks like you’re doing really, really well. That’s always good to see,” Judge Schnegg said at the time.

Then in November the judge gushed praised for him after getting another good report from probation officials. “Out of thousands of probationers, no one has done a better or more consistent job than you have, and I really want to commend you for taking responsibility and for actually working diligently to complete all the things the court has required of you,” she told Brown.

That most recent praise for the 21-year-old Brown came five months after a series of concerts he was scheduled to perform in Europe was cancelled when he was denied a visa to enter the United Kingdom. That hardly seemed fair given the progress the talented performer had made in battling his dark side.

In fact, I though Brown had earned a chance to reboot his career, which has floundered since his beating of Rihanna. He appeared to be genuinely committed to making amends for his bad behavior – and really determined to prove he is no longer a crude brute.

Then he snapped on Twitter.

In a series of tweets on the social network, Brown proved to still have a hair-trigger temper when he lashed out Raz B after the former boy band singer tweeted that he couldn’t understand why Brown had been so disrespectful of Rihanna.

Brown responded with a homophobic term to describe the molestation Raz B claimed – and later retracted – he suffered while a teenage member of the R&B music group B2K.
Brown’s crass reference to anal sex in regard to the alleged assault was mean-spirited proof that while he passed the court’s domestic abuse class he needs to take an advanced anger management course – something he seemed to acknowledge a day after his Twitter war of words with Raz B.

"Yesterday was an unfortunate lack in judgment,” Brown told TMZ.com. "Words cannot begin to express how sorry and frustrated I am over what transpired publicly on Twitter. I have learned over the past few years to not condone or represent acts of violence against anyone."

In a 2009 video apology to Rihanna and his fans, Brown said he takes “great pride in me being able to exercise self-control.” But he didn’t two years ago during his physical encounter with Rihanna and he didn’t last month in his verbal clash with Raz B.

Brown’s rehabilitation is far from complete. He’s a talented – but greatly troubled – entertainer, who appears to be closer to teetering on the brink of self-destruction than exorcising his demons.

Those demons are what Brown must confront and defeat if he wants to get others to give him a second chance.